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RFID Motivates Schoolkids to Bike It

An RFID-enabled Freikometer measures the number of times students pedal to school.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 26, 2008Most children these days get to school on four wheels—either in a bus or car. But an RFID system built by a small Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit company called Freiker (short for FREquent bIKER) is helping to change that, one two-wheeled bike ride at a time. Armed with a $25,000 donation from 1 World 2 Wheels—the advocacy arm of Trek Bicycle Corp.—Freiker is now using the money to expand its RFID-based system nationwide.

Freiker is the brainchild of Rob Nagler, a Boulder dad, who is also a computer engineer and president of software consulting group Bivio Software. Nagler was searching for a way to get kids interested in riding their bicycles to school on a daily basis, as a means of encouraging them to exercise, and as a way to help ease the traffic jams caused by parents carting children back and forth to school each day.

At Crest View Elementary School, a solar-powered Freiker reader on a pole reads RFID tags attached to children's bike helmets.

Nagler launched the Freiker program in 2004 at Crest View Elementary School, the neighborhood school he rides to along with his kids. At first, the students carried "punch cards" with them to school, and a volunteer would use a hole-puncher to mark every trip to school that each student made by bike. This system, however, was cumbersome and slow. Then Freiker moved up to bar-coded cards that volunteers scanned as children arrived at school. But in 2006, the nonprofit graduated to an autonomous tracking system powered by EPC Gen 2 passive RFID labels that participating kids stick onto the tops of their helmets.

To collect the tag IDs, Nagler created the Freikometer—a solar-powered device containing the M8 RFID reader module made by Colorado RFID developer SkyeTek. The Freikometer includes a Wi-Fi card so the tag IDs can be transmitted to an access point operated by the school, as well as an audio alert that chimes when a tag is read, so students passing beneath the interrogator know their tags were read.

Nagler received help in optimizing the design for the case that holds the reader, battery, Wi-Fi card and solar panel by working with Colorado Plastic Products. He also weatherproofed the devices, and says the unit has functioned throughout each school year since its installation, in all types of weather. In addition, he installed the interrogator and configured the back end, Web-based software that logs the tag reads and maintains the student database. (Nagler documented the entire process of developing the reader system, and its pitfalls, on the Freiker blog.)

Those ID numbers are securely transmitted via a Wi-Fi connection to an Internet access point, then on to a server at Freiker's Boulder office. The more times students ride their bicycles to school, the greater their chances of winning iPods or other prizes. Kids and their parents can then track, via Freiker's Web site, the number of trips made by entering in a code printed on the tag label, associated with a child's RFID tag number.

The Freiker program was a Crest View success story, Nagler says, since both students and parents enjoyed and participated in the program. It is currently offered at a total of nine schools, where Nagler has installed Freikometers but now employs the newer, smaller SkyeTek M9 reader module. Last year, there were up to 120 riders on some school days at Crest View, with students at all participating schools making more than 27,000 round trips throughout 2008.

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